Demand for data center skills outpace supply
Data center job outlook
The proportion of people working on the IT/networks side of the data center industry has increased steadily while those on the facility side have remained steady.
In recent years, macro trends such as increased digitalization, the proliferation of IoT-enabled devices and a greater emphasis from businesses on improving the environmental sustainability of their IT operations, all transformed the data center market globally. Data center users require their facilities to be flexible and efficient IT engines that are capable of scaling rapidly and adapting to support various types of workloads. To achieve this, data center operators are increasingly in search of talented professionals with broad and often multi-faceted skillsets.
Job market drivers
Today, the rapid pace of technological innovation made the task of keeping a modern data center performing optimally 24/7, 365 days a year a complex undertaking that requires hard skills in a variety of areas.
Traditionally, data center jobs were separated into two categories: IT/network and facilities. On the IT/network side, the number of professionals working in data center roles rose steadily over the past five years1. Much of this can be attributed to the industry-wide push towards automation and infrastructure convergence, along with the expanding role of software in data center management and optimization. Skills most in demand include those related to open-source development, cloud computing, data science, networking and virtualization.
On the facilities side, where professionals are tasked with operating and maintaining equipment, such as power and HVAC systems, job figures remained relatively steady. The responsibilities of these positions, however, evolved as data center owners became increasingly focused on avoiding the costs associated with outages, which can be as high as $9,000 per minute2. In a 2017 survey from the Uptime Institute, more than 90 percent of data center and IT professional respondents said that their corporate management is more concerned about outages now than they were just a year ago3. As a result, it is not uncommon to see phrases such as “maintain 99.99% availability of data center” in job postings for facility-related positions, such as systems engineers, technicians and operations managers.
In addition to the evolving roles of IT and facilities personnel, data center owners’ desire to reduce operational costs by optimizing energy consumption also affected the way the two departments interact. In the past, organizational models treated these groups as separate entities. Although this is still the case at many data centers today, the operational benefits offered by integration of IT teams and facility personnel are becoming hard for owners to ignore. This has subsequently led to an increased demand for job candidates with “soft” skills (i.e., individuals who can communicate effectively and work cross-functionally across the organization to improve business outcomes).
While the vast majority of data center job openings today require candidates to possess a Bachelor’s degree in a technical discipline—such as software engineering, mathematics or computer science—certification programs are becoming increasingly commonplace, particularly with existing professionals who are looking for ways to advance their careers.
Among the many certifications that data center professionals today can attain, some of the most popular include Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), VMware Certified Professional 6 - Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV), Cisco Cyber Security Analyst, and EMC Data Center Architect4.
Opportunities arising in edge markets
The U.S. remains the largest data center market in the world5. While demand is high and land costs are at a premium in established regions, such as Northern Virginia, Dallas, Chicago, Silicon Valley and New York/New Jersey, the rapid pace of digital transformation is giving rise to data center job opportunities in edge markets. (To learn more about edge data center requirements, read our September article, “The Race to the Edge.”
Boston is a prime example of this. Its stable climate, diverse economy and relative proximity to larger markets made it an ideal location for data center growth. The city’s world-class educational institutions also provide developers with a robust pipeline of young talent. While the high cost of industrial power in the Boston market has hampered the development of large-scale (i.e., hyperscale) data centers, many providers are capitalizing on the benefits of operating smaller, hyper-efficient facilities. Other secondary markets experiencing growth similar to Boston include Atlanta, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Nashville and Salt Lake City6.
Demand for skills is outpacing supply
Overall, skilled worker supply in the data center industry has yet to catch up with demand, as many facility and IT managers report having difficulty filling positions for technicians, engineers and operators, as well as roles related to IT systems, applications, network, and telecommunications7. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years as the market continues to experience rapid growth driven by worldwide digitalization.
1. DCD Intelligence, “Global Data Center Employment Market Briefing 2015” report
2. Ponemon Institute, “Cost of Data Center Outages,” Jan. 2016
3. Uptime Institue, “Annual Survey Results”, May 2017
4. EdTech, “5 Certifications Data Center Professionals Can Use to Soar”, Feb. 2017 -
5. Global Industry Analysts, “Global Data Center Networking Market”, July 2015 -
6. Data Center Dynamics “2017 Data Center Operator Trends”, Feb. 2017 -
7. Data Center Knowledge, “What Data Center Skills are in High Demand Today”, Oct. 2015